The Nation's Angriest Cities? Not What You'd Expect

Think twice about crossing someone from Orlando. And don't expect that fellow from Nashville to take your ribbing lightly. And people from Detroit? Well, they don't need any more excuses to punch your clock.

On the other hand, that fast-talking city dude from New York? He may be the most laid-back person you'll meet all day.

At least that's what you'd expect from a listing of the 100 angriest cities in Men's Health magazine last month.

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The fitness periodical took in factors like men's blood pressure statistics, FBI figures on aggravated assaults, workplace death data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as traffic-congestion and speeding numbers from various other sources.

What they found was that supposed havens of tranquility — or at least friendliness — didn't fare nearly as well as the unofficial capitals of stressing out.

The home of family-friendly fare, Disney World's Orlando? It's the King of Rage at No. 1. And the land of tranquil retirements, Florida, earned three more places on the top 10 angriest cities — St. Petersburg (No. 2), Miami (No. 7) and Jacksonville (No. 9) — making it easily the U.S.'s most ticked-off state.

And music hasn't soothed the savage breast of the cradles of American music. Nashville, the capital of country, came in at No. 5; and Memphis, home of the blues, scored eighth.

Melancholy Edgar Allen Poe's adopted hometown, Baltimore, Md., has turned from sadness to anger in the 150-odd years since the raven was heard from nevermore — the Charm City scored No. 4 on the most-charmless list.

Maybe being stuck with half of a McDonald's arch for its only landmark is what makes St. Louis citizens so frustrated at No. 10, but they have nothing on Wilmingtonians, whose only claim to fame is being the only city in Delaware most people can name. Wilmington's at No. 6 on the list of angriest American cities.

And Detroit? OK, Detroit makes sense. It motors in at No. 3.

But New York? The land of the stereotypically brash, agitated and neurotic? It comes in at a blissed-out No. 57.

Reaction to the list ranged from befuddled to a mild nodding of the head.

"It's a surprise to me," said Memphis graduate student Scott Hammond, 32. "I can't say that I've noticed a lot of angry people here."

It wasn't such a shock to others.

"You're talking about cities in the throes of a tremendous amount of change," said Britt Minshall, a Baltimore sociopsychologist and former cop from Philadelphia (No. 27).

Florida, he said, has undergone massive changes in demographics, politics and economy in the past 10 years. Detroit has been going through a slow, painful loss of its automobile industry and cultural significance for decades. And his own adopted hometown, Baltimore, is reeling from its recent attempt to transform itself into a white-collar city.

"Baltimore has gone from being a conservative blue-collar town to a completely different kind of community, inundated with people from Washington, D.C., and all over the world," Minshall said.

"The factories are all gone, there's huge unemployment among the laboring class, 40 percent of the population is either incarcerated, in the process of being incarcerated or closely related to someone who is, and if you don't have a household income of $60,000 or more, you can't live here anymore. The anger may be coming from that," he said.

And Memphis student Hammond said he could see how some might view his city as having its problems, such as a low-level racial tension common in Southern cities ... and traffic.

"There are very bad drivers here," he said. "Mostly it seems like the rich cars, the Lexuses and Mercedes and stuff, seem to be in a real hurry and feel like they own the road. Yeah, real bad drivers."

But others questioned the validity of the list.

"My daughter goes to Vanderbilt in Nashville, and it seems like a nice city to me," said Emil Coccaro, the Ellen C. Manning professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago (No. 11 on the list).

Coccaro heads up an influential group studying aggression. He said that how angry a human being is — or at least a person's tendency to react negatively to what's going on — depends on a combination of temperament and environment.

Growing up in a household where a person was maltreated or treated aggressively is a major factor in the anger he or she might exhibit as an adult, as are biochemical changes and the inability to correctly interpret social cues.

But there's no evidence that these are issues in the angry cities list.

"There's no reason to think people in Orlando, Fla., have a major difference in their biological threshold than other cities, so it must be environmental factors," Coccaro said.

"It must be faster-paced, maybe differences in age. Older people might have higher blood pressure. It could be high-salt diets. Maybe it's because of Disney World and that the people who live in Orlando might not actually like the fact that they're in Disney World and people come in and take over their city all the time."

Without a properly conducted study, with random samples, it's impossible to assess what the Men's Health list means, if it means anything at all, Coccaro said.

But that doesn't mean cities on or off the list can't take measures to reduce the level of anger among their citizens.

"Life is faster than it was; people use e-mail and expect an answer as soon as they send it out. People are getting squeezed every which way, and all these things raise the level of arousal and bring [them] closer to the threshold where they're ready to explode," Coccaro said.

"You can't stop people [from] using e-mail or slow the pace of life, but a city could invest in parks and recreation, and state governments could do things with their employees so they're not so stressed out," he added.

But when it came to the one city that everyone expected to make the top 10, almost everyone was at a loss. New Yorkers, it seems, go against stereotype and are a pretty level-headed bunch.

"I've never been there, but it has that reputation for rude people," Hammond said.

Minshall offered up one theory, from his experience as a Philly cop, not as a sociopsychologist.

"New York folks have a certain brazenness about them," he said. "They are defiant. It's part of the city culture. They're not as prone to react in anger and fear because they're already hyper, high with civic brazenness, and you're not going to survive in a city like that otherwise. Yeah, as a Philadelphia cop I dealt with a lot of New Yorkers."

Requests for comments from angry cities went unreturned. Perhaps they're seething.

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